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Understanding China through literatureBookmark

Learning area: English
Year level: Year 10, Year 9
Country: China
General capability: Intercultural understanding

This module focuses on developing students' intercultural understanding of Asia. Students complete a learning sequence which encompasses a diverse range of traditional and contemporary texts from and about the peoples and countries of Asia, including texts written by Australians of Asian heritage.

In these activities and throughout the sequence emphasis is on the varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds of Chinese people to avoid stereotypes.

Dragon silhouetteSilhouette of a dragon


Image: Dragon silhouette by Angelus, CC BY-SA 3, Wikimedia Commons

Related resources

Activity 1: The power of literature

Task 1: What we know

This activity is designed to engage students by valuing their prior knowledge.

Ask students to form groups of four and use a mind map on an A3 sheet to record everything they know about one of the following:

  • Modern and ancient China
  • Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution
  • China and Australia
  • Chinese stories in films, books and popular culture.

Students now share what they have recorded in a world café (Brown & Isaacs 2005), in which each mind map is placed at a 'café' or desk. As the 'customers', students move through four rotations at four other 'cafés' so that they learn about the other three topics. One of the 'owners' of the mind map stays at the café to take each group of customers through what has been recorded. At each café, students can add more ideas, thoughts and responses on sticky notes or onto a digital mind map. When they return to their initial café, students look at the sticky notes and digital suggestions and decide if they want to add them to their mind map. Students also teach the owner about what they have learned in the other rotations.

When students have completed the rotation, they reflect by discussing:

  • What two things did you learn?
  • Did something surprise you?
Teaching notes

To engage students in their learning, students explore their knowledge about China and expand it through collaborative talk and research. A mind map is a useful tool to draw out and expand on this prior knowledge. Depending on the number of students in the class, there may be two groups working on the same topic. After about 5 minutes, prompt students with more linking ideas such as books, films, food, dress, cultural and religious beliefs, government, the arts, education, history, ethnic groups, human rights, communication, globalisation, population, censorship and sport. Students may use a linking idea to extend the mind map further. If available, encourage students to refer to their phones, tablets or other technology, the teacher and other students in the class, including spying on any other group doing the same topic, to add even more to their mind maps. Tape on more A3 sheets as the mind map continues to expand. Alternatively, this could be done electronically with mind mapping tools such as MindMeister, XMind, popplet, Mind42, or SimpleMind. This activity will support students who may have limited knowledge about China, in particular about the Cultural Revolution, which is included as it is central to many of the texts in the unit of work.

Establishing protocols about discussion and working cooperatively are important at the beginning of the unit of work. In the world café, stress the value of listening to different ideas and perspectives in order to show respect to others as they speak, build relationships and make the group more effective. A Y chart on what active listening looks like, sounds like and feels like can generate useful class discussion. In 'sounds like' discuss how language choices can include or exclude others in the group. In this way the teaching and learning activities complement the content in helping students develop respect for each other and for different perspectives, including those of students from different cultural backgrounds.

The mind maps could be displayed and students encouraged to add to them throughout the unit of work. They could also be shared with other classes as an online resource. Elicit some responses from the café 'owners' and the 'customers' about their experience during the activity.

Task 2: What is important in your life? Connecting the novel to students' life worlds

Ask students to identify what is most important in their lives. Ask them to consider people, places, books and other objects, and values. Students work with a partner first, using a think pair share. Students move into larger groups of three or four students. They record each idea on a separate sticky note. As each idea is recorded, a runner from the group should place it on the whiteboard, noticeboard or large sheets of butchers paper. At first there will be a few random sticky notes but the job of the runners will be to look at what is there and place the sticky note next to ones that have similar ideas. The sticky notes will be categorised and re-categorised by the runners as more and more sticky notes are created. This is an affinity diagram. After 5 minutes stop and as a class make some final decision about the categories. Then give each category a title.

Students share with their partners and then with their group what would happen if these elements were taken out of their lives:

  • Could you cope?
  • What would you miss the most? Why?

Students use the ideas from their discussion as they consider the following scenario:

We are sending you on a student exchange to a remote location for two years. It will be a place far away from home and your friends and family. You are only allowed to take one suitcase for your clothing. You have space to take one other possession. Choose carefully, especially as there will be no mobile reception.

Students then consider what they would take and why. Then they should complete the following:

  • Write a journal reflection in which you discuss the pros and cons of taking that object and why you would prioritise it over other objects.
  • After some initial writing, share your ideas with each other in small groups or share it with the whole class by posting it to the class wiki.
  • After reading other students' posts, post a comment on whether you have changed your mind about what you would take and explain why or why not.

Students now watch the opening scene in the film Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress in which the narrator and Luo arrive in the village (approx 7 minutes).

Ask students to discuss with their partners:

  • What is happening in the film clip?
  • What might the characters be thinking? How might they be feeling?
  • What do you think will happen to them?
  • The village headman says that they are there to be re-educated. What might their re-education be?
  • For the narrator and Luo, the violin and books help them to survive. What would you do to survive if you were in the same situation? How will the object you selected help you to survive?
Teaching notes

Both valuing prior knowledge and connecting learning to students' life worlds are important ways of engaging students in the novel and the topic of study, and essential to develop students' intercultural understandings. To introduce Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress by Dai Sijie the initial violin scene provides an opportunity for students to explore their reactions if they were placed in a similar experience to Luo and the narrator.

The affinity diagram helps students see as important in their own lives. During the activity, prompt students with suggestions if necessary. Then introduce the scenario. Discussion is central to scaffold the journal writing and then to extend the journal through further discussion. An alternative to the journal is to use a class wiki. This has the added benefit of creating a real audience for students' writing and building a community of learners. It also addresses the ICT capability of the Australian Curriculum which explicitly refers to the role of communication technologies in students' collaboration and communication with others electronically.

The film version of Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress is readily available from online sites such as Fishpond (Australian) and Amazon. (Ensure that it is PAL and in Zone 4.)

Task 3: Collaboratively building knowledge about the Cultural Revolution in China

This activity is designed to expand students' background knowledge. It uses a jigsaw in which students work collaboratively to build and then share their knowledge about the Cultural Revolution in China. First, students form 'home' groups of six students. Then they number off 1 to 6 to form 'expert' groups. Each jigsaw expert group will be assigned one of the following texts, which include picture books, video clips and images of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Other sources can also be used for the expert groups. See Resources for suggestions.

Expert group 1: The red piano by André LeBlanc; illustrated by Barroux (2008)

Expert group 2: Mao and me by Chen Jiang Hong (2008)

Expert group 3: The peasant prince by Li Cunxin, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas (2007)

Expert group 4: Remembering the Cultural Revolution videos

A note on the videos (which can be found to the right): The boy who denounced his mother provides an excellent introduction to many of the themes that appear in Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, but it is confronting and teachers should make their own decision about whether it is suitable for their students. Mao's revolution: caught on camera can be used as an alternative or in conjunction with the first video.

Expert group 5: Images of the Cultural Revolution

Expert group 6: Look at images from China by Yann Layma (pages 50, 51, 54, 86, 117, 135, 148). Students could also look at Yann Layma: photographer, click on Portfolios and selectPortfolio/Chine (Portfolio/China).

Expert group retrieval chart

Title of text:
What you observe Your reactions Your questions

Students now move back to their home groups to teach others about what they have learned about the Cultural Revolution in China and the questions they still have. After each person has shared their 'expert' knowledge, they should discuss the similarities and differences in their observations, reactions and questions. Students try to answer each other's questions and research more if necessary. Then they add to their self-assessment capacity matrix (DOC 159 KB).

Teaching notes

As well as valuing student background knowledge, the role of the teacher is to expand this knowledge in order to meet the Australian Curriculum cross-curriculum priority of Asia and Australia's Engagement with Asia, and in turn develop students' intercultural understandings. A jigsaw is a useful tool to cover content through different perspectives and a variety of texts.

Picture books are included as they are compact, accessible and also foreground the visual analysis activities that follow in the unit of work. Using open-ended questions through a retrieval chart values the diversity of responses in any one class and also sets up expectations that students think, respond and question. A retrieval chart is simply a table which is used to record information.

Also introduce the self-assessment capacity matrix (DOC 159 KB).

Notes on using this are included in the assessment overview in the References.


Images: October 1966, Tiananmen Square, by R.C. Hunt; The Red Piano, by André LeBlanc, Illustration by Barroux

Videos: The boy who denounced his mother by The Guardian – Standard YouTube LicenceMao's revolution: Caught on camera by The Guardian – Standard YouTube Licence

Activity 2: The visual dimension

Task 1: Symbols – short cuts for making meaning

A symbol communicates meaning by representing or standing for an idea, object, action or event. For example in some places a red octagonal sign is a symbol for stop, while a skull and crossbones might symbolise poison, death or pirates. Symbols vary across situations and cultures and even within cultures. In some cultures a dragon is a fire-breathing monster symbolising destruction, while in others, such as in Chinese culture, it symbolises wisdom, power and longevity. Similarly, the rat is perceived negatively by many because it is associated with disease. In China the rat is one of the twelve animals of the zodiac and the qualities associated with rats include creativity, honesty and generosity.

Within cultures individuals can often interpret symbols differently based on their experiences, values and world views. People infer the meaning of a symbol by associating it with something they know or with the conventional meaning of the symbol. Over time these interpretations may also change.

Ask students to think about what colours symbolise. In China red symbolises good luck and prosperity and is chosen as the colour of wedding dresses; it is also the colour of the Communist Revolution in China and Russia. In South Africa red symbolises mourning. In Thailand purple symbolises mourning. Ask students to discuss what red and purple symbolise for them.

Ask students to make a list of the symbols they can think of for abstract terms such as danger, love, courage, acceptance and conformity. They then compare and contrast their symbols with a partner. Ask students to answer the following questions:

  • What differences or similarities can you identify?
  • Why do you think they might be the same and/or different?

Authors and illustrators use symbols as a short cut for making meaning and as a specific cultural reference. In order to understand a symbol you infer its meaning. Inferring involves thinking about the deeper meaning of the text or image and what is not directly stated by the author or illustrator. Inferring helps you to identify themes which are the big ideas in a text that help to create connections between the author/illustrator and the reader.

In a think pair share, students should discuss the use of colour and symbols in the picture books used in Activity 3: The red piano, Mao and me and The peasant prince. They should refer to the texts, watch the clip again and also read the opening scene of Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress. Ask students to consider the following questions in their discussion and complete the retrieval chart:

  • Is colour used in a symbolic way?
  • What might the violin in the film clip symbolise?
  • What other symbols can you identify?
  • What is its literal meaning and what does it symbolise?

Students complete the retrieval chart, taking their thinking to a deeper level by considering why the author includes these symbols and the themes that are being presented.

Symbols can provide clues for what the themes are in a text. For example the symbol of the violin represents home for the narrator and Luo in Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress. It introduces the theme of identity because the violin represents an important part of the narrator's and Luo's lives before they came to the mountain. Another theme that can be inferred from this scene is defiance as when they tell the village headman that the narrator is playing a song entitled 'Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao', they are standing up to him. Other symbols such as the clock and the suitcase of books continue this theme.

Symbol/Concrete object Literal meaning What it symbolises Author's purpose Theme/Abstraction
Violin in Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress Musical instrument Home, music, culture, happiness, the past and their former lives To contrast the lifestyles of the village people and the young men, and to establish a plot complication Identity Defiance
Piano in The red piano
The kite in The peasant prince

Task 2: Analysing how illustrators make meaning

As a class, students complete a visual analysis of the image of the family in The red piano. In this visual analysis, students should note how symbols are used to enhance the meaning that the author and illustrator are communicating. A visual analysis also includes the impact of the choices that illustrators make on audiences.

Then, with a partner, students choose another image from one of the picture books they read in Activity 3, and complete a visual analysis of the image. They should use the model of the visual analysis of the image from The red piano as a framework for this analysis and refer to the glossary of visual terms (DOC 148 KB).

Teaching notes

Students could have a small version of the image above in their books that they annotate or they might want to use an electronic medium. Jon Callow's (2008) work on visual literacy is useful as a framework for visual analysis. Provide students with the glossary of visual terms (DOC 148 KB) to which they can refer as they annotate the images.

First, students examine the image closely and in a think pair share, discuss it and record their individual and pair or group responses. Explain to students that this is the 'affective dimension'. Explain also that the image may appeal to some and not to others because of our cultural backgrounds and prior knowledge. If available, use a data projector to show students the modelled response of the affective dimension (below) and allow them to take ideas from it to add to their response.

Second, move to the 'compositional dimension' which includes students identifying what is happening, and the visual devices that are used to create interpersonal meanings between the viewer and image, and between the participants within the image. Discuss this with the students, using think pair shares. The purpose here is to identify what is happening and what visual devices are used.

Finally, introduce the 'critical dimension' which requires students to analyse the effects of the visual devices on the viewer, including how the viewer may be positioned to think and act. Use think pair shares again for students to discuss the effects of the visual choices on the viewer or audience. Then they write two to three sentences in each of the three sections of the critical dimension. Show them the modelled response, allowing them to take ideas from it to add to their own response. Direct students to see how symbols are identified in the visual analysis, and how they augment the meaning in the written text. Also note the use of abstract terms such as innocence, control, power and family connections.

Model of a response using the visual literacy framework (Callow 2008)

Affective dimension: I selected this image because I was struck by the differences between the realistic photo of Chairman Mao in the background and the drawings of the three characters. The girl stands out in her coloured clothing but there seems almost a sinister look by Mao who is much larger and placed behind the characters, dominating the picture and controlling their lives. Many Chinese people who experienced the Cultural Revolution in China would relate to this because of what they suffered during this time. For others, who do not know much about China, they perhaps might see Mao's expression as indifferent.

Compositional and critical dimensions
Compositional dimension Critical dimension
Effects on the viewer and how the viewer is positioned
What is happening
  • actions, events, concepts and settings
  • symbols
In this image the main character is thinking back to her childhood, of happier times with her parents. It seems like a family photo with everyone looking at the photographer. In the background is a large image of Chairman Mao and Chinese script, establishing the time and place. The floral design on her jacket is a symbol of happiness while the red script represents the Cultural Revolution. The juxtaposition of the family with Chairman Mao positions the audience to consider the relationship between them. Clearly Mao is more powerful.
Interpersonal meanings between viewer and image
  • colour
  • angles and shot types
  • character gaze
  • lines
  • texture
The colours are greys, browns, reds and greens. The parents are in dull colours while the child has a colourful jacket of red, white and green, perhaps suggesting her innocence as she is not yet as affected by the control of Mao in their lives as her parents are. There is a strong sense of connection between the characters who are touching and whose gaze is directed at one point, perhaps towards the photographer. Chairman Mao is looking in another direction, at the viewer, suggesting he is not connected to the other characters. The shot type is a low angle which makes Mao seem more powerful as he is looking down on the viewer and the three characters. It is a mid-shot showing characterisation and the themes of power, control and family connections. The viewer is positioned to empathise with the family and to feel the power of Mao.
  • layout
  • salience (attention-gaining aspect)
  • reading path and vectors
Both the centrality of the girl and the colour of her clothing give her salience. Nevertheless, the viewer feels the power of Chairman Mao who is behind the main characters, controlling their lives. His size and gaze make him the most salient aspect of this image. His direct gaze draws the viewer in first and then the reading path is to go down to the family. The vectors of the Chinese script going down as well as the line on the father's coat reinforce this reading path. The viewer is positioned to think negatively of Mao but still hopeful of a better future for the girl.

Assessment task: Visual analysis

Choose another image that you feel links to the images in the texts you have been exploring and independently complete a visual analysis. The image may be from the books you have read in this unit of work or any other picture you can find in popular culture, other texts or on the internet. See the References section for suggested links to image sources.

Use the criteria/quality assessment rubric (DOC 138 KB) to guide you as you complete the task. As self-assessment, check that you have addressed each criterion. Submit your work for peer assessment and then use the feedback to refine your work before submitting it to your teacher.

Teaching notes

A criteria/quality assessment rubric (DOC 138 KB) is used to make assessment criteria explicit to students for self-assessment, peer assessment and for feedback to the student by the teacher. A rubric to assess students against the relevant standard of the Australian Curriculum is also available for Year 9 (DOC 138 KB) or Year 10 (DOC 137 KB). See also the Assessment overview in the References section.

The translation of the slogan in the first photograph is:

  • Use your blood and your life to guard the Party Central Committee!
  • Use your blood and your life to guard Chairman Mao!

If Chinese language is taught at your school, or if there are Chinese language-speaking students in the school, students could make connections with these groups to obtain a translation.


Images: Dragon silhouette by Angelus, CC BY-SA 3;  Traditional Chinese Wedding Dress, by Kelidimari, CC BY-SA 3.0 Illustration by Barroux, from The red piano by André LeBlanc; B&W image taken on campus of Fudan University, Shanghai, in the Spring of 1976, by Villa Giulia, public domain; China - Emei Shan 8 - steps up the mountain by McKay Savage, CC BY-SA 2.0

Activity 3: Analysing and exploring

Task 1: Patterned partner reading

In the next three activities students read and analyse a novel Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress by Dai Sijie. They will use a variety of strategies to read collaboratively and independently, developing their skills to predict, reflect, discuss, infer and explore different perspectives.

Note that the novel deals with issues of teenage pregnancy and abortion. During this time in Chinese history, there was very little knowledge of contraception in rural areas and it was illegal to have children out of wedlock.

Read Part 1 of the novel with the whole class. At various points ask the students to use think pair shares to share their thoughts, feelings, connections and the comparisons they make to the film clip. Students then continue reading Part 2 and Part 3 independently, pausing to reflect and discuss with a partner, using the patterned partner reading strategy.

Ask students to form pairs and choose one of the following, either for each chapter or for each day that they read the book. With their partner they can decide on their own stopping points and activity, ensuring that during their reading of the text they complete each activity at least once.

Read–Pause–Predict: at any point, predict what you think will happen next, including going beyond the end of the novel. You can also predict vocabulary and possible sentences that will occur. Explain your predictions and stop again to confirm them or make new predictions.
Read–Pause–Discuss: after reading a section of the text, stop and ask each other a question about what you just read.
Read–Pause–Make connections: with your partner, discuss the connections between the text and other parts of the text or the real world and your own experiences.
Read–Pause–Sketch: after reading a section of the novel, sketch an idea from the text and then explain it to your partner.
Read–Pause–Summarise: discuss what you have read and then in your own words summarise the key parts of what you have read. If possible, identify any themes.
Read–Pause–Bookmark: pause to complete a bookmark, noting the most interesting information, something confusing, or unfamiliar vocabulary.
Read–Pause–Infer: discuss what you have read and make inferences about the deeper meaning of the text and what is implied or not directly stated by the author. Describe any themes using abstract terms.
Read–Pause–Reflect: reflect on your feelings about the novel up until this point. Record three quotes about the characters of the narrator, Luo and Little Seamstress that stood out to you and explain why on the class wiki. Respond to the posts of at least three other students by commenting on the importance of one of their quotes.
Read–Pause– ________: design your own stopping point.

Teaching notes

Reading Part 1 of Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress with the whole class is important to engage students in reading the novel.

In parts 2 and 3, for the patterned partner reading (see McLaughlin & DeVoogd 2004) some students may need support in deciding on their stopping points; others will enjoy the freedom and choice. The activities can be expanded and students may come up with their own Read–Pause– _______. These activities develop reading strategies such as predicting, connecting, summarising, questioning, inferring and visualising. It is vital that students read the text independently in order to develop their reading and comprehension. Allow some time in class so students can discuss what they have read with their partner and record their reflections. The reading and activities could also be done concurrently with the activities that follow; for example, by dedicating half of the lesson to reading and patterned partner reading, and the other half of the lesson to activities 8 and 9 in which students learn about the novel's themes and narrative structure in more depth. In exploring other perspectives, they also develop their intercultural understanding.

Task 2: Exploring other perspectives

Form groups of three to four students. Allocate each group one of the chapters in Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress that has been written from a different point of view such as:

  • the Old Miller's story
  • Luo's story
  • the Little Seamstress' story

Students quickly reread the chapter and then in their groups discuss:

  • What is the chapter about?
  • From whose point of view is the chapter written?
  • What information does the chapter reveal about characters, themes and culture?
  • What do you think was the author's purpose in including these chapters?
  • What aspects of Chinese culture in the novel are similar and/or different to your own cultural experiences?

Students record the key ideas of their discussion and then decide how they could present these to the class. They could incorporate visuals, symbols, sound, gestures, role plays or any other elements to engage their audience. Then as a group, students plan and present to other members of the class. Students listen carefully to presentations on the other chapters and ask clarifying questions so they can complete the activity on narrative structure that follows.

After listening to all the presentations, move students into different groups of three or four so that each group contains a range of members who have studied the three different chapters. Ask students to then look at where these chapters fit into the structure of the novel. Narratives generally include an orientation, complication, resolution, evaluation and coda. As a group, students complete the following table to identify these aspects of narrative in Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress.

Narrative structure Definition Evidence from Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress
Orientation This establishes the setting, atmosphere and time of the story, and introduces the characters.
Complication This is where a problem or situation occurs that upsets the setting, time or characters. There may be a number of complications, plus rising action to the climax or main complication.
Resolution The problem is solved and order is restored. There may be a number of minor resolutions before the final resolution.
Evaluation Evaluation tells the audience the significance of the story. An internal evaluation is a comment, an event told through another character’s perspective, or an emotional response of a character. An external evaluation is the narrator making a comment or judgement.
Coda The coda is an example of evaluation. It is the moral, lesson or message of the story. It may make concluding remarks and bring the narrative back to the present.

Ask students to answer the following:

  • Does Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress follow a traditional narrative structure or has Dai Sijie created an innovation on this traditional structure?
  • Do you think the structure of the novel is successful? Why/Why not?

Students then record a reflection in their journal or post a comment on the class wiki. They should comment on the posts of two or three other students.

Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress in the 21st century

This story is set in China in the 1970s. Ask students to compare the story to today to see which themes are still relevant. They should complete the table below by adding more themes and identifying examples from the 1970s and today. Students work with a partner or in a small group to discuss their ideas and extend their thinking. They can draw on their own knowledge, any text that they have read in this unit of work and any others they have read or know of. A list of other texts students might like to read is included at the end of Teacher notes.

Theme 1970s in China Today in Australia
Anti-authoritarianism The narrator, Luo and Four Eyes read banned books. The global Occupy protest movement, including Occupy Sydney against social and economic inequality
Education Re-education for the narrator and Luo was leaving your old life behind and learning a different way of life; for the Little Seamstress it was learning to read and eventually moving to the city.
Imagination/The power of stories
Loss of innocence

Following their discussion, students choose one of the following:

  • Write an extended reflection in your journal or on the class wiki on why Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress is or is not still relevant today. Refer to at least three themes in your reflection and respond to the posts of two or three other students.
  • Write an extended reflection in your journal or on the class wiki on why studying novels such as Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress about other places, times, people and cultures are important.
  • Respond to the following review of Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, stating whether you agree or disagree with it and why.

'A simple story, seductively told, Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress rushes a little too quickly to a close, but this hardly detracts from the book as a whole. What marks it out is the way it touches and lifts up the beauty of human experience far beyond the mountains of Western China in which the story is set.' (Justin Hill, Times Literary Supplement)

Teaching notes

Topic 1 ends on an extended journal response on themes, linking the 1970s to the 21st century. It connects to the initial activity in Topic 2 in which students learn about Dai Sijie’s experiences when he returns to China in 2000. The activity aims to develop intercultural understanding by focusing on the common experiences of people across time, culture and place.

Assessment task 3 is the culminating assessment task of the unit of work in which students draw on what they have learned throughout Topics 1 and 2. If students only complete Topics 1, they may still select one of the options in Assessment task 3 as their culminating assessment for Topic 1. Another possibility is to use the review of the novel by Justin Hill from the Times Literary Supplement as a prompt for a formal essay.


Image: Early Autumn, by Qian Xuan, 13th century, ink and colours on paper, public domain

Activity 4: Identity and belonging

The story Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress is a story of growing up in China in the 1970s. The author, Dai Sijie, drew on his own experiences to write the novel. He later immigrated to France in 1984.

With the class, look at the images from China (to the right). Ask them to imagine Dai Sijie comes back to China 20 years later in the 2000s. Pair students and ask them to respond to the following questions:

  • What will he see?
  • How will he react?
  • What differences will he notice?
  • What similarities will he notice?
Teaching notes

The images provided for students are sourced from the internet. You may substitute the images with your own, such as images you have taken while in China or you could use images from the excellent pictorial book China by Yann Layma. Images 195–202 are an appropriate selection.


Images: Sunshine Xidan, by Chen Zhao, CC BY 2.0; Singing and dancing in Beihai Park, by Chen Zhao, CC BY 2.0; Chinese streetscape, by Chen Zhao CC BY 2.0; Lions Bridge, Nanjing in Spring Festival, by Chen Zhao CC BY 2.0; Tea house in Beijing by Luo Shaoyang CC BY 2.0; Fashion models at Moon Harbor, Suzhou, China. Photograph by Kevin Dooley, CC BY 2.0

Activity 5: Analysing the text

Task 1: Responding to text

Students read and respond to excerpts from Rediscovering China by Dai Sijie (from China by Yann Layma). Students should annotate the text as they read, using the signs in this table:

? Write ? in the margin for any questions you have about what is happening or about the vocabulary.
Underline Underline aspects of Dai Sijie's writing style that you like, dislike, find amusing or interesting. Put a double line under what you think is the best written sentence in the memoir.
C Write C in the margin for your connections when the piece reminds you of something you have read, seen or done previously. This might be where the memoir connects with aspects of your own cultural experience.
! Write ! in the margin when you find aspects of the memoir that could have come from Dai Sijie's cultural experience.

Once students have finished reading they share their annotations with a partner and then participate in a whole class discussion on aspects that made the greatest impact on them.

Teaching notes

text annotation activity (Brown 2007) allows students to connect personally to a text. Prior to reading the text, discuss the annotation strategy. You may wish to read the opening of 'Rediscovering China' and model your own annotations. Then ask students to complete the reading individually and to use all the annotation tools.

Task 2: Collaboratively building knowledge about the text

Look at the two images below of hutongs in Beijing. Dai Sijie mentions the destruction of the hutongs in his memoir.

Many hutongs were removed or renovated due to progress in the city and in preparation for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

These two images illustrate how Dai Sijie's memories of China in the 1970s do not match the modern reality of China in 2000s.

In a jigsaw activity, students work collaboratively to build and then share their understandings regarding Dai Sijie's memoir. First, form 'home' groups of three students. The students number off 1 to 3 to form 'expert' groups. Each jigsaw expert group will be assigned one of the following activities relating to 'Rediscovering China'.

Expert group 1: Complete the following table regarding Dai Sijie's use of the senses to deepen our connection to his story. 

Sense Example from text Effect on reader
  • Which do you think is the most powerful use of sensory description by Dai Sijie? Why?

Expert group 2: Complete the following table regarding Dai Sijie's use of emotion to examine his memories and experiences in Beijing.

Emotion Example from text Effect on reader

Expert group 3: Identify two sets of memories within the text: Dai Sijie's memories and the memories of his friend from university.

Dai Sijie's memories University friend's memories
  • Do you think the memories are a true reflection on the events and places from the 1970s? How can we know?

After sharing expert group responses with their home groups, students create a short anecdote from their own life using one of Dai Sijie's techniques (sensory descriptions, emotional responses and/or using both their own and others' stories about the event).

An anecdote is a short description about a specific event in one's life. Like all narratives the anecdote should include an orientation, complication, resolution and evaluation. Students could post their anecdotes on the class wiki. Students can then read other students' anecdotes and provide a constructive comment on at least one other anecdote.

Teaching notes

Before asking students to write their own anecdote, you will need to discuss narrative structure. If you have completed work from Topic 1, remind students of the work on narrative structure from Activity 7. If you are completing Topic 2 as a stand-alone unit, you may use the narrative structure table from Activity 7 in Topic 1 with evidence from 'Rediscovering China' to illustrate the use of narrative structure in personal memoirs or anecdotes.

Students are asked to post their work on a class wiki. The use of a wiki provides students with regular opportunities to develop their personal and social capabilities as well as the opportunity to use information and communication technologies in their learning. A wiki helps students to develop connections with their peers as well as to deepen their understanding of topics through access to others' thinking. The wiki activities could be used as homework as long as all students have internet access at home.


Images: Girl in Beijing Hutong, photo by Zhart. CC BY-SA 3.0; Street Scene in Hutong, Beijing, March 2006, public domain; Removal of the hutongs, courtesy of Chicken & Egg Pictures.

Activity 6: Memoirs

Task 1: Modern 'memoirs'

Our sense of belonging is changing through the use of online communities such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and blogs. People share their experiences and memories including photographs, video clips and comments through their posts. People also choose with whom within these communities they will share their posts. Their posts are then 'changed' by the comments that are added by the other members of the community.

With the widespread use of smart phones people can take photographs and video clips, and post them immediately to various platforms. What purpose do these posts and images have in developing our sense of self and our interactions with others? Ask students to consider the following:

  • How do photographs help us to remember events?
  • Why do people post photographs onto Facebook and Flickr? In what ways do shared photographs help groups develop a sense of individual and group identity?
  • Think about a photograph or comment publicly posted by a friend that includes you or an event that you attended. Did it present a different perspective of the event than you remember or make you think about the event in a different way? What impact does that have on your connection with your friend? If you don’t have a post or photograph like this to refer to, then work with a partner and discuss their post.

Students then write a journal response regarding the way that online posts help people to not only build memories but also to build connections and friendships through sharing events and experiences.

Teaching notes

Students have responded to the ways Dai Sijie explored his personal journey back to China after an absence of 20 years. Dai Sijie refers to specific artefacts and facts that he used to enhance his memory of Beijing. His sense of himself stems from the events, connections and memories he has from his past. In a world where the access and use of online communities are widespread, students should consider how people around the world use the internet to formulate memories and connections with others.

Dai Sijie talks about his connection with his university room-mate in Paris. His memoir includes his own memories as well as those of his friend. His friend's memories become part of his own personal history in a similar way as to how students are connected through their online communities. Prior to students completing the journal response, establish the context and similarity of their online communities to the way Dai Sijie talks to his friend and uses the map to remember China.

Assessment task: Critical thinking

Are memories true? Do we remember events fully a long time after they have happened? If not, how do we know that anything we remember about an event is true?

Consider the following questions:

  • How do we know if something is fact?
  • Do you trust stories if people tell them to you?
  • What if the story is written down in a book or online, does that make it true?

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and many people follow his teachings in their lives. One of his proverbs is: 'The palest ink is worth more than the best of memories'. (China by Yann Layma, p 316)

Create a glog to illustrate your response to this proverb. Answer the following questions:

  • What do you think Confucius is saying?
  • What does it teach us about truth and our memories?

Consider that 'the palest ink' might not just be limited to writing. It could also be images, photos and Facebook or Twitter posts.

A glog is an interactive visual platform in which users create a 'poster' or 'web page' containing multimedia elements including text, audio, video, images, graphics, drawings and data.

Use the Criteria/Quality assessment rubric (DOC 134 KB) as a guide to complete the task. As self-assessment, check that you have addressed each relevant criterion. Submit your work for peer assessment and then use the feedback to refine your work before submitting it to your teacher.

Teaching notes

Prior to asking students to create a glog in response to the quotation, conduct a class discussion using the discussion questions. The discussion should explore notions of facts versus personal opinions or memories. The work conducted relating to 'Rediscovering China' has been about Dai Sijie's memories and the memories of his friends. These memories are not necessarily 'true' and people can sometimes only remember minor aspects of events and people in their lives. People can also 'remember' events from stories that are told to them by other people.

A CQ assessment rubric is used to make assessment criteria explicit to students for self-assessment, peer assessment and for feedback to the student by the teacher. A rubric to assess students against the relevant standard of the Australian Curriculum is also available for Year 9 (DOC 134 KB) or Year 10 (DOC 134 KB). See also the Assessment overview in the Resources section.

Task 2: Character analysis

Ask students to complete a think pair share on the following topic:

Our grandparents influence our life and view of the world.

Direct students to:

  • Think: Take a few minutes to think in silence about the idea. Make written notes providing examples from your personal experience (book or film examples are okay if you don't have a personal example).
  • Pair: Talk about your thoughts with a neighbour or partner. Share your examples and determine how they reflect the idea.
  • Share: Present the ideas of your pair to the class.

Students now read an excerpt from How to be Japanese by Leanne Hall (Growing up Asian in Australia, edited by Alice Pung, pp 229–231) about the author's grandfather.

With partners, students discuss their reactions to the excerpt. This extract discusses the author's relationship with her grandfather. She explores why he behaves in specific ways and how that has an impact on her relationship with him and the way she views others and herself as a result.

Ask students to look at the following statements. They should record whether they agree or disagree with the statements. They then discuss their responses to the statements with their partners and justify their ideas.

  • We expect older people to be politically incorrect (that is grumpy and opinionated).
  • Some things shouldn't be shared with grandparents.
  • Because we do not have the same experiences as our grandparents it can be hard to understand their feelings about big issues.
  • Sometimes negative experiences can make us feel very strongly about issues.
  • It can be hard to create a clear identity for ourselves when we have strong connections to more than one 'culture'.
Teaching notes

In the previous work on memory the focus has been on recalling personal events; however, Dai Sijie uses the map of Beijing to 'remember' the city when he is in Paris. Similarly, the grandfather in How to be Japanese uses stories about China under Japanese occupation to create his personal memory about Japan and Japanese people. Before providing students with the excerpt discuss the previous work on memory and how memories are formed.

Task 3: Thematic analysis

Ask students to read the memoir by Leanne Hall How to be Japanese (from Growing up Asian in Australia, edited by Alice Pung).

Leanne Hall explores her sense of identity and cultural connections as she reflects on a photography shoot and the memories that this evokes. For the following activity ask students to think about the themes explored in her memoir.

In Topic 1, students completed work on symbolism. Symbols are concrete items that suggest abstract ideas. Abstractions are emotions, ideas or ideals. When explored in texts these abstractions are developed into themes or pervasive ideas by writers. To determine themes in texts, readers extract the ideas from the character development, action, setting and symbols. Writers communicate themes to attempt to develop a common understanding with a reader.

With a partner, students complete the following table on themes explored in How to be Japanese. Students may add any other themes they have identified from the text.

Theme Example from text Author's purpose Reader response
(Personal experience/reaction)
Straddling two cultures
Teaching notes

Once students have read the memoir you may choose to complete an engagement activity, such as a class discussion on students' reactions to the memoir or specifically targeted questions relating to the key themes of the passage. You may also choose to complete a text annotation strategy.

Students identify examples from the text that illustrate the themes in the table, determine their view about the author's purpose and make a personal connection with the themes. By identifying how they have experienced similar issues to Leanne Hall, students develop their intercultural understanding. If the students have not completed the work on symbolism in The power of literature ​activities, then you will need to provide the context for symbolism and theme with students before completing the activity.

Activity 7: Investigating stereotypes

Task 1: Visual representations

Ask students to look at the advertisements by Tourism Australia about Australia. Print advertisements create a single image to convey complex ideas so tend to resort to stereotypes of people and places to engage the viewer.

Students should choose four advertisements from the website and complete a retrieval chart such as the one below:

Advertisement (describe image and write out slogan) How do the image and the slogan represent Australia and Australians? Why is Tourism Australia presenting Australia and Australians in this way? How might someone from China (who could be the target audience for the adverts) think about Australia and Australians after seeing this advertisement?

With a partner, students discuss the following questions, making notes on key ideas from their discussion.

  • If the only knowledge someone has of Australia and Australians is from these advertisements, how accurate would their impressions be?
  • Do you see yourself and the kind of person and interests you have in these advertisements?
  • Why would Tourism Australia want to present Australia and Australians in this way?
  • Explain whether this is a positive or negative stereotype of Australians.
  • Under what circumstances could it be considered good to stereotype people?

Students choose one of the questions and write a post for the class wiki. They should also respond to someone else's post.

Teaching notes

Leanne Hall's memoir comments on stereotypes and in the following activity students will be asked to consider whether accepting a stereotype of oneself can be positive. The stereotypes of Australia and Australians represented in tourism advertising are common concepts for students. This activity will help students to think about stereotypes without negative connotations. Any images that present stereotypes of Australia and Australians may be substituted for the Tourism Australia campaign.

Task 2: Stereotypes

Leanne Hall explores two separate stereotypes of Japanese people in her text: her grandfather's views; and the image portrayed by the media of the 'Japanese image girl look'. However, the text also shows how limiting stereotypes are when considering people. Leanne Hall describes herself as 'half-Chinese and half-Australian' (p 227) and is presenting herself as a Japanese image girl for a beer advertisement aimed at the Australian market.

Yet she finds that the work is cathartic: '… to let myself become the enemy, the stereotype I have always tried to avoid. The pleasure I get from this is unexpected and slightly puzzling. There's something seductive in acting out a stereotype; life would be simpler if I only had to exist in one dimension'. (p 228)

Working in pairs, students complete a T chart such as the one below:

How do adults sometimes stereotype teenagers? How do teenagers tend to want to be viewed by adults?

Using these ideas students write a personal reflection about how each view (the adult's and teenager's perspective) is reflective of the kind of person they are and how the views of others are different from theirs. Do they agree with Leanne Hall that their life would be simpler if they could exist in only one dimension?

Teaching notes

This task further deepens students' understanding of stereotypes. Conduct a class discussion regarding the ways that different people view groups of people. For example Leanne Hall has a different view of Japan and Japanese people than her grandfather had, due to their different experiences. Ask students to think about the different people in their lives and how each person views them in different ways; for example their teacher views them differently from their parents, who in turn view them differently from their friends. Again, this is based on each person's different experiences with the people around them. Then ask them to think about how and why they might behave with different people. This discussion and thinking will enable them to complete the T chart and scaffold their reflection.


Images: courtesy of Tourism Australia

Activity 8: New worlds

Task 1: Multiple perspectives

Throughout How to be Japanese Leanne Hall explores the multiple 'worlds' she inhabits.

Ask students to consider:

  • Who gains and who loses when you come from multiple worlds?
  • Are you enriched by coming from more than one culture or does it leave you confused?

Discuss with students the following ideas:

Being a teenager is a bit like living in two worlds or coming from two cultures: the world/culture of your friends and peer group and the way they expect you to behave, and the world/culture of your family and their expectations of the way you should be. For someone who also has a background from another country, whose traditions and culture are very different from those of Australia, the two cultures can feel very different and hard to align.

Working in pairs, students create an alternative mind portrait to explore this idea. There are two silhouettes of a person. Students label each of the two silhouettes with one of two 'cultures' they identify with (for example friends and family). Inside each silhouette they write down thoughts, behaviours and actions they engage in when they wish to represent that 'culture' and on the outside they write down how people react to them when they are like that.

Teaching notes

This work continues on from the previous discussion regarding different groups of people and how people behave differently in different environments. You could reflect on how as a teacher you are different in a classroom/school than you are with your friends

scaffold for an alternative mind portrait can be found on the New Learning website. When students write the information from other people's perspectives outside the silhouette they could use different colours to write with – each colour could represent people from different cultural groups with whom they interact such as parents, friends and teachers.

Task 2: Jigsaw activity – surviving in new worlds

Students form home groups of four students. Then they number off 1 to 4 to form their expert groups. Each expert group will be assigned a reading from one of the following:

  • Orchards, pp 35–36, 40, 50–54
  • Little white duck, pp 70–99
  • Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, pp 3–8
  • Children of Tibet (Excerpt from Children of Tibet is reproduced courtesy of Pearlfisher Publications.)

Direct the students as follows:

  • In your expert groups, read the passage describing the experiences of the character as they explore a new environment.
  • In your expert groups, make notes in the retrieval chart below as you discuss the passage and how the character manages through the experience.
  • Return to your home group and share your learning with your home group, making notes in the remainder of the retrieval chart when your group shares their learning.
Passage Key experiences for character What new things does the character have to deal with? What does the character do to cope with the changes?
Children of Tibet
Little white duck
Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress

Using the information from the retrieval chart for inspiration, students write a journal response to the following:

Imagine that your family moves to China and that you are sent to an international school. The bulk of the lessons are taught in English; however, students and teachers communicate in Mandarin outside of the classroom. What types of things would you have to deal with in this new environment and what would you do to cope?

Teaching notes

This activity prepares students for reading 'Beat of a different drum' by Simon Tong. Simon Tong's memoir explores the techniques he uses to cope in two new environments. A focus is on the strategies Simon Tong uses in Australia to integrate with his peers. The excerpts are anecdotes from other writers dealing with change and external pressures to conform. Students will have the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of the challenges faced when people experience change, especially when they are asked to conform to a new culture and learn a new language.

Activity 9: Building intercultural understanding

Task 1: Thematic analysis

Students read the memoir by Simon Tong Beat of a different drum (from Growing up Asian in Australia, edited by Alice Pung).

Simon Tong's memoir explores his experiences moving from Hong Kong to Australia and the mechanisms he employs to survive in his new environment.

Ask students to consider the following extract from his memoir:

'Robbed of speech again … demand to be taken seriously.' (p 48)

In the retrieval chart below students make notes regarding three themes explored in this passage:

Theme Example from text Author's purpose Reader response (personal experience/reaction)
Power of language
Teaching notes

This task provides an opportunity for students to understand how literature can promote tolerance, respect and understanding across cultures. It builds on students' understanding of themes. As with Activity 6, once students have read the memoir you may choose to complete an engagement activity such as a class discussion on students' reactions to the memoir, or to provide specifically targeted questions relating to the key themes of the passage.

Task 2: Survival strategies

Ask students to discuss the following with a partner, making notes for each question:

  1. What methods does Simon Tong use to survive in new places both at his high school in Hong Kong and in Australia?
  2. When you are faced with new challenges, what do you do to survive?
  3. If you were sent to school in another country what would you keep from your own culture or previous home and what would you change about yourself to survive?
  4. What would the benefits and challenges of following 'old' customs be if you are trying to build a new life in a new place?

Ask students to choose one question from questions 2 to 4, post a response on the class wiki and comment on another student's post.

Teaching notes

In this task, students link Simon Tong's experiences to their own experiences, enabling them to connect to the text and to understand challenges for people to survive in a new culture. The first question asks students to list concrete examples provided in the memoir. Questions 2 to 4 provide students with an opportunity to consider how they would cope in similar circumstances. The activity is also linked with the work completed in Activity 2. Students may review this work as well as Simon Tong's memoir to respond fully to questions 2 to 4.

Task 3: Building understanding

Ask students to consider:

  • What does Simon Tong say was the 'sum total' (p 45) of what he knew about Australia?
  • How does his knowledge compare to the ideas about Australia presented in the Tourism Australia advertisements?

Ask students to create a mind map about what they know about China today (or look back to the mind map they created earlier and add to it if necessary). Based on that knowledge would students be more prepared than Simon Tong to live in China?

Students create a T chart brainstorming responses to the following questions. Initially they should write down their own ideas, share those responses with a partner and add to their lists if their partner has extra ideas. Then students share some ideas with the whole class, again adding new ideas to their lists based on their classmates' responses.

  • What things do you think you should know to live in a new country?
  • What advice would you have given to Simon Tong when he first arrived in Australia to help him survive at school?

Students now compare their two lists:

  • What is similar between the two lists?
Teaching notes

The focus of this task is for students to demonstrate their intercultural understanding in practical ways. After considering Simon Tong's experiences and thinking about how they would cope in a similar situation, students present ideas that would support someone from another culture coming to Australia. After students have provided their responses conduct a whole class discussion. Student responses should include advice to make some changes but also to value their own culture. This activity also provides a scaffold for the final assessment task.

Assessment task: intercultural understanding

Take any aspect of what you have learned in these activities and create an imaginative, informative and/or persuasive text in which you demonstrate intercultural understanding. Some options to select from are:

  • Write a short story or series of poems on one or more themes that you explored in the texts.
  • Write an expository text or creative text on how re-education shapes futures. This may be based on Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress or on other texts or experiences.
  • Write a persuasive text arguing your point of view on whether studying literature from other cultures promotes tolerance, respect and understanding across cultures.
  • Create a video clip, e-zine, graphic novel, picture book or a series of illustrations that capture one or more key ideas or themes that you have learned about in this unit of work. Include symbols and visual devices from which the viewer could infer meaning.
  • Create your own Tourism Australia advert that you think more accurately reflects the Australia you know. Write a rationale that outlines your choices and how your advertisement would give potential tourists a better understanding of Australia and Australians. If you use stereotypes to present your idea explain your choices and why you presented a stereotype.
  • Negotiate your own topic with your teacher. It can be a written, audio, visual or multimodal (integrating two or more modes) text. Incorporate what you have learned about China: its history, people and culture.

Use the Criteria/Quality assessment rubric (DOC 136 KB) to guide you as you complete the task. Due to the number of options in this assessment task, they are only general guidelines. Nevertheless, as self-assessment, check that you have addressed each relevant criterion. Submit your work for peer assessment and then use the feedback to refine your work before submitting it to your teacher.

Teaching notes

A CQ assessment rubric is used to make assessment criteria explicit to students for self-assessment, peer assessment and for feedback to the student by the teacher. A rubric to assess students against the relevant standard of the Australian Curriculum is also available for Year 9 (DOC 136 KB) or Year 10 (DOC 138 KB). See also the Assessment overview in the Resources section.

About the module

The aim of this module is for teachers to learn about teaching the Asia cross-curriculum priority through exploring and implementing a unit of work in English for years 9–10: Understanding China through literature. While the module may be completed by teachers working individually, the preferred model is for teachers to work with one or more colleagues either personally or online to provide opportunities for discussion.

  1. Work through the sequences on screen. You will need to complete the activities and read the resources. Keep notes using a paper or digital double entry journal:
    Double entry journal
    Topic My response/What I need to learn How confident do I feel about teaching this topic? (1 to 5 = least to most confident)
  2. Discuss and compare your notes with a colleague.
  3. Identify the areas where your colleague is least confident and discuss strategies for increasing confidence in this area. Your colleague should do the same for you. Implement your chosen strategies until you are ready to teach the unit of work.
  4. Plan to teach the unit of work. What modifications will you need to make? Consider the time available and resources required, as well as the needs of your students.
  5. Teach the unit of work in your classroom, according to your modifications. Keep records of what worked and what didn't, sharing your progress with a colleague when possible.
  6. After the teaching is complete, compare notes again with your colleague.
  7. Share your learning with your school and wider networks. What can you do to help others complete this professional learning module?

 A thorough list of resources and references can be found in the References section.

Outline of the unit of work

This learning sequence focuses on developing students' intercultural understandings of Asia and Asian people by studying a diverse range of traditional and contemporary texts from and about the peoples and countries of Asia, including texts written by Australians of Asian heritage.

Focus questions
  1. How are themes and issues in literature relevant across cultures, time and place?
  2. How do authors use symbolism and theme to build common understandings and connections with their readers?
  3. How do our experiences and memories help to build our sense of identity and belonging?
  4. How can studying literature promote tolerance, respect and understanding across cultures?
Using this learning sequence

There are two parts to this learning sequence: The power of literature comprised of Activities 1 to 3 and Identity and belonging comprised of Activities 4 to 9. The suggested activities are designed to cover a term's work. While the learning sequence may be completed in a linear way, the two parts can also be done independently. The teacher will need to provide some background on the Cultural Revolution in China if students only complete the second part.

Part 1: The power of literature – a study of Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress by Dai Sijie

Students read and analyse a novel, picture books, information texts and excerpts from a film to understand and develop respect for other perspectives and cultures, particularly focusing on the experiences of young people in China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. Through collaboration, students develop respect for each other, and for different perspectives, including cultural perspectives.

Part 2: Identity and belonging – how our experiences and memories define us

Moving from the Cultural Revolution to a contemporary context, students read and respond to 'Rediscovering China' by Dai Sijie about his return to Beijing. Students also engage in memoirs by Australians of Asian heritage, exploring the impact of this heritage on their sense of identity and belonging in Australia. Students explore memory, cultural identity, belonging and change; connecting them to their own experiences and the role of social media.

If you choose to complete Activities 4 to 9 of this teaching and learning sequence only, it will be useful to provide students with some background information on the Cultural Revolution in China and re-education programs in the 1970s. A focus on Dai Sijie's experiences will prepare students for the first activity.

Texts required

A DVD of Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, directed by Sijie Dai

Class sets of:

  • Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress by Dai Sijie
  • Growing up Asian in Australia, edited by Alice Pung

Five copies each of:

  • The peasant prince by Li Cunxin
  • Mao and me by Chen Jian Hong
  • The red piano by André LeBlanc, illustrated by Barroux
  • Orchards by Holly Thompson (for the jigsaw activity in Part 2)
  • Little white duck: a childhood in China by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martinez

One copy of China, a photographic book by Yann Layma, is highly recommended as it contains the short essay 'Rediscovering China' by Dai Sijie.

Achievement standards
Year 9 Year 10
English English

Topic 1: The power of literature – a study of Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress by Dai Sijie

Mind mapping software:

Photographs of China:

Topic 2: Identity and belonging – how experiences and memories define us


Australian Association for the Teaching of English & Australian Literacy Educators Association 2003, MyRead, DEST, Canberra,, accessed on 16 February 2013.

Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress 2004 (film), directed by Dai Siije, People's Republic China/France.

Brown, J & Isaacs, D 2005, The world café: shaping conversations that matter, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco.

Brown, MD 2007, 'I'll have mine annotated, please: helping students make connections with text', English Journal, vol 96, no 4, pp 73–78.

Callow, J 1999, Image Matters, PETA, Newtown, NSW.

Callow, J 2008, 'Show me: Principles for assessing students' visual literacy', The Reading Teacher, vol 61 no 8, pp 616–628.

Cayley, V 1994, Children of Tibet, Pearlfisher Publications, NSW.

Chen, Jiang Hong 2008, Mao and me, Lion, New York.

Dai, S 2002, Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress, Vintage, London.

Dai, S 2003, 'Rediscovering China', in Y Layma, China, HNA, New York.

Hall, L 2008 How to be Japanese, in A Pung (ed), Growing up Asian in Australia, Black Inc, Victoria.

Layma, Y 2003, China, HNA, New York.

LeBlanc, A 2009, Barroux (illustrator), The red piano, Wilkins Farago, Albert Park, Victoria.

Li, Cunxin 2007, A Spudvilas (illustrator), The peasant prince, Viking, Camberwell, Victoria.

McLaughlin, M & DeVoogd, GL 2004, Critical literacy: enhancing students' comprehension of text, Scholastic, New York.

Na, Liu & Martinez, AV 2012, Little white duck, Lerner Publishing Group, Minneapolis.

Pung, A (ed) 2008, Growing Up Asian in Australia, Black Inc, Victoria.

Thompson, H 2011, Orchards, Ember, New York.

Tong, S 2008, 'Beat of a different drum', in A Pung (ed), Growing up Asian in Australia, Black Inc, Victoria.

Further reading

Cheng, C 2011, The melting pot: my Australian story, Scholastic Australia, Lisarow, NSW.

House, S & Vaswani, N 2012, Same sun here, Random House, New York.

Ly, Many 2008, Roots and wings, Random House, New York.

Pung, A 2011, Her father's daughter, Black Inc, Collingwood, Victoria.

Russell, Ching Yeung 2009, Tofu quilt, Lee & Low, New York.

Woo, Sung J 2010, Everything Asian, St Martin's Griffin, New York.

Xinran 2007, Miss Chopsticks, Random House, New York.

Yang, Gene Luen 2006, Chinese born American, First Second Books, New York.

Assessment overview

A range of assessment tools are included to promote self, peer and teacher assessment.

Self-assessment capacity matrix

In a self-assessment capacity matrix (DOC 159 KB), the capacities move from knowledge (I have heard of this) through to deep understanding (I have taught others) and includes a final capacity on work habits. Students may tick or date each capacity as they achieve them.

A self-assessment capacity matrix:

  • encourages self-reflection and metacognition
  • ensures accountability
  • promotes collaboration
  • supports students to monitor their own progress in completing tasks
  • sets high expectations for the levels of achievement; the highest level is at understanding, demonstrated by teaching others.

Criteria/Quality assessment rubrics

CQ rubrics make assessment criteria explicit to students for self-assessment, peer assessment and for feedback to the student by the teacher. Students use them as a guide when completing assessment tasks and for peer feedback. Once students have received their peer feedback, they submit the work to the teacher. In the feedback, teachers comment on areas of strength and provide suggestions for improvement. This feedback can be used to write a final draft or be referred to during the next major assessment task.

Grades should not be included with the CQ feedback to ensure students focus on the feedback rather than the grade in order to improve learning. Grades should be provided to the student at another time, not on or near the day the feedback is provided.

CQ rubrics are included for:

Years 9 and 10 Australian Curriculum achievement standard rubrics

These rubrics align the content descriptors from the years 9 and 10 Australian Curriculum: English that have been addressed in the assessment tasks with the relevant parts from the years 9 and 10 achievement standards. These rubrics are completed by the teacher. A student may be ranked as below, at, or above the achievement standard.

  • Assessment task 1: Year 9 (DOC 138 KB); Year 10 (DOC 137 KB)
  • Assessment task 2: Year 9 DOC 134 KB); Year 10 (DOC 134 KB)
  • Assessment task 3: Year 9 (DOC 136 KB); Year 10 (DOC 138 KB)

Digital assessment tools

For peer assessment, there is a variety of tools available so that students can provide feedback to each other. These include Google Docs, CGScholar, Edmodo and the Review toolbar on Microsoft Word.

The full resource can not be displayed on a mobile device.

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